Friday, August 11, 2006


Here is the second half of the top 10 bestseller list for 1947:

The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck, The Viking Press, 1947, 312 pp
Another good Steinbeck novel. It was the #6 bestseller of 1947. A collection of people are making a trip across California from east to west between what is now the Interstate 5 and the 101 freeway, with Los Angeles as a final destination. The story includes the bus driver, his wife, his mechanic and the waitress at the cafe owned by the bus driver and his wife. A storm comes up and causes trouble with the road as well as various reactions among the passengers.

The people on the bus are a cross-section of Americans and a study of human beings with their hopes and dreams and petty concerns. He does it well. He has created a microcosm of America.

House Divided, Ben Ames Williams, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1947, 1514 pp
This very long book was #7 on the list. It took the author 14 years to research and write it. It took me a week to read it. It is about the Civil War and a southern family who went through it. They are wealthy plantation people and own slaves.

The story of the family is good, but there is way too much about the army, the generals and the battles, for my taste. I did, however, learn much about the Civil War, its causes and why it went the way it did. A group of people who comprised the plantation and slave owners felt they had created an ideal way of life which they desired to maintain, the problem being that it could not be maintained without slaves to do the work. These plantation owners were only a very small percentage of the population of the south and it was the entire population who suffered from the war, provided the soldiers for the army, etc.

That is the way of wealth and wars. It is a bad game that gets dramatized over and over on this planet. I am quite weary of reading about it.

Kingsblood Royal, Sinclair Lewis, Random House Inc, 1947, 348 pp
At #8 on the list is another book about racism. Neil Kingsblood is a very mediocre sort of man in a northern Minnesota town. He works in a bank, is married with one small daughter and he plans to move up in the bank and in society as a good middle-class citizen. One day he finds out that he has Negro blood, only 1/32, on his mother's side and everything changes.

The story is about his decision to reveal this fact and the reactions to it all around him. The purpose is to expose racism in the North and show all the silly, crazy, false data white people operate on. I saw parallels to Gentleman's Agreement, especially showing the social struggle for people who don't want to be prejudiced. I wasn't wild about Lewis' style in this novel and the story was pretty contrived, but somehow it was still a good read.

East Side, West Side, Marcia Davenport, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947, 376 pp
The #9 bestseller is a women's novel. Jessie Bourne is in an unhappy marriage. Her husband comes from "society" and he is chronically unfaithful to her. Jessie is half Jewish; her mother was a famous actress who got "accepted" by society, which is how Jessie made her match.

Jessie is a bit of a fool but as the story moves along she gets wiser. She meets a good man and gets up the nerve to leave her husband. Of course, she has her own money, inherited from her mother, which gives her more options than most women.

The time is just after WWII, the place is New York City. The ideas concern where the upper level of society comes from (i.e. they were mostly all poor immigrants at some time in the past); how men are stupid and heartless; how even though the war is over things are not settled in Europe. Lots of ideas in this book, but really it is a love story.

She is a good writer all around and I read the book in a day.

Prince of Foxes, Samuel Shellabarger, Little Brown and Company, 1947, 433 pp
Another great read by Shellabarger, The Prince of Foxes was #10 on the bestseller list for 1947. I enjoy reading big historical novels and am happy to see that they are coming back onto the bestseller lists in recent years. It is a great way to learn history.

Andrea Orsini, the hero of this story, was of common birth but goes under an assumed name and takes care of things for Cesare Borgia. He has a very smooth tongue, a high level of bravery and of course is very handsome. His sidekick (they all must have a sidekick) is Mario Belli, a former assasin and the ugliest man in the world. Camilla Verani is Orsini's love and the heroine. She is the wife of an elderly man who rules one of the city-states of Italy.

The story is about how Orsini, Belli and Camilla outwit Borgia. The theme is that good wins over evil by being not only good but also clever enough to match wits with evil. It was a page-turner, a thriller set in Renaissance Italy and a love story all in one. I was enchanted.

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